If you want better promises, make better requests

“Strategy is a commodity. Execution is an art.” – Peter Drucker

If you want to get things done, I invite you to start by making better requests. A request can be described as a conversation of coordinating action (266, Brothers and Kumar) and in and out of organizations we have all types of different conversations. To make an effective request there are 6 essential elements.

Elements of a request:
1. Committed Speaker (Thing 1)
2. Committed Listener (& Thing 2)
3. Conditions of Satisfaction (The thing, Thing 1 needs Thing 2 to do)
4. Time Frame (By when)
5. Context (The reason, or maybe some other shared understanding)
6. Mood (being cognizant of how this request is being communicated)

When I first took this learning in at Newfield Network conference, I was absolutely awestruck. Not it’s very basic, but how often do we miss paying attention to at least one of these aspects of making a request. In the learning groups, I lead this Fall, participants got to explore broken promises and to discover that in all cases the request had missing elements, or that the request was in fact a demand and hadn’t left room for the listener to make counteroffers.

Let’s Explore the Elements

Speaker and Listener

In our fast and frequently digitally communicated world, it is challenging to have the first two essential elements in a request. How do we know when we are sending an email that we have a committed Listener (Reader)? We don’t. This is not to say to never make a request by email, this is to bring to attention requests by email are in fact requests that are missing essential elements and so may need a bit more attention on other elements, and an extra confirmation.

When you do get to have an in-person conversation, invite your listener to a space that is free from distractions and comfortable. Depending on your relationship you may need to immediately create some shared context, or set the scene like “Jane, I have a request of you today, do you have a few minutes for me to tell you about it?”

Conditions of Satisfaction

This is the meat of the thing you need to have done or the action you need to take. This is where it is essential for you to be precise. Even if you have a large amount of shared context the way people interrupt things is different. If you need your friend to get lettuce from the store do you care what kind, iceberg, butter lettuce, loose-leaf mix in a bag or a head of lettuce. Folks, there are lots of different kinds of lettuce so tell people the kind you need, be specific. Ok, another example you need a report of the first quarter marketing efforts. What are you really looking for a 10-page report with everything you have done for marketing in the first quarter with graphs and conclusions or a quick one-page summary of the number of followers on social media? Tell Thing 2 what you need from them, and Thing 1 that means actually know what you want, please, please, please don’t make a request if you don’t know what you want, that would be a different conversation.


This one is easy and so often left out. Do you need lettuce next month for the bunny eating contest, or do you need it for dinner tonight at 5pm. And listeners, Thing 2er’s if you are not given a time frame for a request, ask!


When we don’t know why we are being asked to do something, or we don’t revisit shared values and concerns it is easy to not understand the importance of the request. In romantic relationships, this happens as we drift into disconnection and autopilot. Revisiting the context, and shared values and concerns of things like having dinner together as a family can bring meaning and a purpose to the request to bring lettuce home by 5pm.


“The right conversation is the wrong mood is the wrong conversation” – Chalmers Brothers

When we are in the wrong mood, we might not be able to receive a conversation/request in the same way as we can when we are in the right mood for that conversation/request. “We see the world not as it is, but as we are” -Albert Einstein. We can conclude from this quote that when we are feeling angry it is easier to see the world with anger and that the world looks bad, unforgiving, sharp etc… I think it’s a safe bet then, requests made to someone in a better mood are more likely to be taken well. If you think then well everyone at work is always in a bad mood, that speaks to a larger context and culture issue that needs to be addressed.

When we make full requests with all six elements accounted for a considered we make the best requests we can make. Our listener/Thing 2 then can make a committed promise, a counteroffer or decline. If declining is not an option, you are not making a request but rather a demand. Ideally, at the end of this conversation for coordinating action, you have a clear agreement.


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Also, keep an eye out for “Create a promise keeping culture, in your workplace and in your relationships.”

Language and the Pursuit of Leadership Excellence: How Extraordinary Leaders Build Relationships, Shape Culture and Drive Breakthrough Results Chalmers Brothers-Vinay Kumar – New Possibilities Press – 2015